The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and David Beard.
● CA-Sen: This is very interesting indeed. Longtime Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is an institution in California, but she's often made liberals' teeth ache. The most recent trip to the dentist became necessary just the other day, when Feinstein rather startlingly declared she believes Trump "can be a good president," something it's hard to believe any mainstream Democratic politician would ever think, let alone say aloud. Feinstein's full remarks were even worse:
"I think we have to have some patience. I do. It's eight months into the tenure of the presidency … We'll have to see if he can forget himself and his feeling about himself enough to be able to really have the kind of empathy and the kind of direction that this country needs. The question is whether he can learn and change. If so, I believe he can be a good president."
Feinstein thinks it's possible Trump can learn and change? Forget himself? Show empathy? Seriously? Which Donald Trump has Feinstein been watching these last few terrifying years? Any hypothesis that involves Trump doing something you'd want him to do is automatically null and void. These are not open questions, because we already have the answers.
Feinstein's comments provoked a hot response from California Democrats, particularly state Senate President Kevin De León, who fired back in lacerating terms:
"I don't think children who breathe dirty air can afford patience. The LGBT worker or woman losing their rights by the day or the black student who could be assaulted on the street—they can't afford patience. DREAMers who are unsure of their fate in this country can't afford patience. Even a Trump voter who is still out of work can't afford to be patient.
"We don't have much patience for Donald Trump here in California. This president has not shown any capacity to learn and proven he is not fit for office. It is the responsibility of Congress to hold him accountable—especially Democrats—not be complicit in his reckless behavior."
On this one, it's safe to say that De León speaks for progressives everywhere, while Feinstein is wildly out of step. But electorally speaking—because that's what we care about at Daily Kos Elections—does any of it matter? It just might. Following this exchange, San Jose Mercury News reporter Casey Tolan asked De León if he's considering a primary challenge to Feinstein, and the response from De León's staff in no way ruled out the possibility. In fact, the statement took a further jab at Feinstein, saying the odds of Trump changing his ways are "probably worse" than winning the lottery.
How about De León's odds of beating Feinstein, though? It would be difficult, to say the least. One huge obstacle is California's top-two primary system, which we've long inveighed against, and here's yet another reason to despise it. Under this system, all candidates from all parties run together on a single primary ballot, and the top-two vote-getters advance to the November general election—regardless of what party they belong to.
That makes it almost impossible to defeat an incumbent in the primary, because only the most scandal-tarred dimwit is going to come in third and miss the runoff (something that has yet to happen since California adopted top-two ahead of the 2012 elections). That means an intra-party challenger has to find a way to make it to the general election, which involves a whole lot of things going right over which no candidate has control. Most importantly, if a single Republican opts to enter a primary with two major Democrats, that alone likely means only one Democrat will make it to the second round—and there's nothing Democrats can do to keep that Republican out of the race in the first place.
There have been instances when an incumbent has squared off against a member of their own party in November, but it's been rare, and it almost always only happens in districts that lean heavily to the left or right (meaning that two Democrats or two Republicans have more votes to divide up, giving both a better chance of advancing). Last year, in an open seat race for the Senate, Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez did both take the top two slots in the primary, but they benefitted from a badly split Republican field, something De León couldn't count on.
And that's not to mention Feinstein's universal name recognition, her easy access to huge sums of money, her support throughout the Democratic establishment, and the fact that Republican voters would likely cotton to her in a general election as the more moderate option. But De León is term-limited next year, and while he's looked like a likely candidate for the 2018 governor's race, the field there is already very crowded and very high-powered.
So it may be that a high-risk Senate gamble is looking more appealing, and in the age of Trump, any Democrat who's less than vociferously opposed to the man in the White House is at risk of winding up on the wrong side of progressive voters. There's another possibility, here, too: Feinstein, who is 84, has yet to formally declare that she'll seek re-election. While she's signaled that she will in fact run again (chiefly by raising money), it's notable that she has yet to do so. De León could thus be positioning himself as the state's most vocal anti-Trumper should Feinstein ultimately decide to retire—an event that would trigger a huge wave of interest from other Democrats eyeing her seat.
● AL-Gov: After she became governor following Robert Bentley's resignation, Republican Kay Ivey spent months keeping people guessing if she would run for a full term. But Ivey recently set up a fundraising committee, and people close to her tell the Montgomery Advertiser that they expect her to announce her plans sometime between Labor Day and the Sept. 26 GOP Senate runoff.
It would be a huge surprise at this point if Ivey didn't run, but she can't expect a smooth path through the primary. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington, and businessman Joshua Jones all entered the race months ago, and they each reaffirmed that they won't defer to Ivey. Several other Republicans are also campaigning for the job.
● CT-Gov: Democratic Comptroller Kevin Lembo formed an exploratory committee months ago ahead of a likely bid for governor, but on Thursday, he announced he would run for re-election instead. It's not clear why Lembo reversed course. Lembo has said he wouldn't run if Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman got in; Wyman hasn't made a move yet, but Lembo may have decided she will run after all. However, an unnamed source close to Wyman tells local NBC reporter Max Reiss that she didn't have any advance knowledge of Lembo's plans.
● OH-Gov: We have our first major ad buy in the GOP primary. A group supporting Secretary of State Jon Husted called Ohio Conservatives for Change has launched a $350,000 cable TV buy that will run until Sept. 15; About half of the money was directed towards airing ads in Thursday's Ohio State University football game. A copy of the commercial is not online yet, though cleveland.com says it says Husted has the "vision, ideas, and background to build a brighter future for our state." Riveting stuff, isn't it.
● AL-02: Last year, GOP Rep. Martha Roby pissed off local conservatives when she said she wouldn't vote for Trump after the Access Hollywood tape was released, and her detractors launched a general election write-in campaign. While Trump carried her Montgomery-area seat 65-33, Roby turned back her underfunded Democratic rival only 49-41, with the rest going to write-ins. This cycle, Roby faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Barry Moore, and he's out with an early August poll from WPA Intelligence giving Roby just a 34-21 lead. The memo argues that Roby has a horrible 33-43 favorable rating with GOP voters.
Roby could very well be in for a tough primary next year, but she does have some things going for her. Moore opened his campaign account in early May and over the next two months, he raised just $11,000 and self-funded another $36,000. Roby had $217,000 in the bank at the end of June, not incredible for a four-term incumbent, but much better than Moore's $45,000 war chest.
Moore also has some vulnerabilities Roby may be able to exploit. In 2014, Moore was charged with lying to a grand jury in a corruption investigation aimed at then-Speaker Mike Hubbard. Moore was found not-guilty on all counts later that year, but recordings played during the trial seemed to show him passing along a threat from Hubbard to politicians in the town of Enterprise to kill an agreement with the state unless one of them dropped his primary campaign against Moore. After Hubbard was convicted the next year, Moore lost the race to succeed his ally as speaker.
● MD-06: This week, EMILY's List threw its support behind Del. Aruna Miller in the four-way Democratic primary to replace 2020 presidential candidate John Delaney in this suburban D.C. seat. Miller faces wealthy liquor store businessman David Trone, state Sen. Roger Manno, and state House Majority Leader Bill Frick in the primary for this 55-40 Clinton seat.
● NY-11: A few weeks ago, ex-New York Rep. Mike Grimm didn't deny reports that he was looking at challenging his successor, Rep. Dan Donovan, in next year's GOP primary for his old Staten Island seat. This week, Grimm, who stepped down in early 2015 on tax evasion charges and served seven months in jail, told NY1 that he is indeed considering a bid, and would decide "fairly soon."
Grimm also gave us an idea about how he would attack Donovan. Grimm insisted the incumbent wasn't "doing well at all as a Republican; I think he's doing a great job as a liberal Democrat. Whether it's going against the president on the health-care vote; whether it's going against the president on the Sanctuary City vote; whether it's all his anti-Second Amendment bills."
Donovan wasted little time returning fire, declaring, "Anybody who does that will have to explain to the public about their transgressions, and that will be up to the public whether they want someone who is a convicted felon representing them, or someone who has been a prosecutor for 20 years and has an outstanding record as a sitting congressman for these years." However, that argument may not resonate if Grimm does run. In 2014, after Grimm was indicted, national Republicans abandoned this seat, and Grimm's fundraising quickly dried up. However, Grimm declared that prosecutors were baselessly targeting him, and he decisively won re-election against a flawed Democratic foe.
Grimm hasn't changed his tune at all, telling NY1 that he was the victim of a witch-hunt led by Loretta Lynch, who was the local U.S. attorney at the time and soon became Obama's second attorney general. Grimm told reporter Anthony Pascale, "People forget, they want to say, 'Oh, tax fraud.' It was three delivery boys and a kitchen worker off the books, which has always been a civil matter. I should've received a civil fine. But I'm not bitter and angry. Politics corrupted the justice system." That not-bitter and not-angry attitude certainly resonated with voters in 2014, when Grimm built a distinct cult of personality by stoking Staten Islanders' resentment with the federal government.
However, it's not at all clear the GOP primary voters agree that Donovan is too liberal for them. Staten Island's GOP leaders certainly don't: Earlier in August, the local GOP chair, borough president, and several other notable Staten Island politicians rallied behind Donovan, a former district attorney.
This seat, which also includes a portion of Brooklyn, won't be an easy target no matter what happens on the GOP side. Right after Hurricane Sandy hit the area in 2012, Obama won 52-47 here, but the seat swung to Trump 54-44 last year. A few Democrats are running here, and GOP infighting could give them an opening. But as we've said before, winning an area this Trumpy is going to be tough no matter the circumstances.
● WA-05: Democrat Lisa Brown, a former chancellor at Washington State University in Spokane and a former state Senate majority leader, announced that she would challenge GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in this eastern Washington seat.
The GOP has held each version of this district since Democratic Speaker Tom Foley lost re-election during the 1994 GOP wave to George Nethercutt, and at 53-44 Romney and 52-39 Trump, it's not incredibly promising territory for Democrats. McMorris Rodgers is close to the GOP House leadership, and money should be no issue for her. Still, Brown does give Democrats a much stronger candidate than usual, and if 2018 goes well for Team Blue, she may be able to take advantage of the situation the way Nethercutt did in 1994.
● Milwaukee County, WI Sheriff: On Thursday afternoon, infamous Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke resigned from office. Under state law, GOP Gov. Scott Walker will appoint his replacement. Clarke, a Trump supporter who has run in Democratic primaries for years, faced a challenge from former Milwaukee Police Captain Earnell Lucas in next year’s race. With Clarke gone, other candidates may jump in.
● Pres-by-LD: Daily Kos Elections' project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation comes to Louisiana, where Democrats still hold a few very red seats in both GOP-dominated chambers. You can find our master list of states here, which we'll be updating as we add new data sets; you can also find all of our calculations from 2016 and past cycles here.
Democrats controlled the Louisiana House and Senate from the end of Reconstruction until the early 21st Century. As recently as 1979, the Democrats won control of every one of Louisiana's Senate districts, even though David Treen became the first Republican in just over a century to win the governorship that year. In 2007, as Republican Bobby Jindal was easily winning the governor's race, Democrats clung to a 53-50 House edge (two independents were also elected that year), and a 24-to-15 Senate majority. Those days are now long gone.
Louisiana has a unique tradition of legislative leadership: traditionally, the governor recommends who should lead each chamber, and that person usually gets the job. In 2007, Jindal chose Democrat Joel Chaisson to lead the Senate but Republican Jim Tucker to run the House, and neither of his picks had any trouble winning their posts. By early 2011, through a combination of party switches and special election wins, the GOP had majorities in both houses, though Chaisson remained Senate president until the new legislature was elected later that year.
In 2015, Democrat John Bel Edwards won the governorship in a truly crazy race against Republican David Vitter, but Republicans maintained firm control of both the House and Senate. Unsurprisingly, Edwards recommended that Republican John Alario, a longtime legislator who, like many other Louisiana lawmakers, switched parties during his career and had also served as speaker of the House as a Democrat under the colorful and controversial Edwin Edwards in the 1980s and 1990s, remain state Senate president. However, the new Gov. Edwards decided to take a chance and picked Democrat Walt Leger to lead the House. This did not sit well with most Republican legislators.
Ultimately, the House picked Republican Taylor Barras for speaker on a vote of 56 to 49: Leger won the support of seven Republicans, while Democrat Neil Abramson crossed over to vote for Barras. The GOP currently holds a 25-14 Senate majority (any vacant seats are assigned to the party that last held them), while they run the House 61-41, with three independents sitting in the lower chamber.
The Louisiana legislature is quite a bit different from many other state legislatures in other ways. The entire House and Senate, along with the governor, are elected to four-year terms the year before each presidential election. (Legislators are limited to three terms in each chamber.) Louisiana also uses a nonpartisan primary, known as a jungle primary, instead of a traditional partisan primary. All candidates run on one ballot, and if no one earns a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of their party affiliation.
Democrats also still hold committee chairmanships in both chambers (though one of those Democrats is Abramson, who leads the House Ways and Means Committee). The Senate Government Affairs Committee even has a five-to-four Democratic majority and is led by state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who is also chair of the state Democratic Party. Earlier this year, as New Orleans was taking down statues honoring Confederate leaders, Republicans crafted a bill that would make it much more difficult for cities to remove public monuments. Alario effectively killed the bill when he decided to send it to the Democratic-led Government Affairs Committee rather than to a GOP-controlled committee.
Now, to the numbers. Donald Trump carried Louisiana 58-38, not much different than Mitt Romney's 58-41 win four years before. Trump carried 28 of the 39 Senate seats and 73 of the 105 House seats. No district in either chamber went from Obama to Trump, and there was just one Romney-Clinton seat anywhere. HD-85, located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in suburban New Orleans' Jefferson Parish, went from 49.5-48.8 Romney to 50-46 Clinton. Republican Bryan Adams won re-election in 2015 with no opposition and resigned the next year. Independent Joe Marino, a former Gretna city councilor, won a special election last year after no one else filed to run.
Three Senate Democrats represent Trump seats, while no Republicans hold Clinton turf. Eric LaFleur holds the reddest Democratic-held seat: SD-28, which includes Ville Platte and Edwin Edwards' birthplace of Marksville in central Louisiana, went from 66-33 Romney to 70-27 Trump. However, LaFleur won his third and final term in 2015 with no opposition. LaFleur has been mentioned as a potential statewide candidate for years, even before he aired this classic 2011 ad, but while he considered a bid for the U.S. last year, he stayed put.
Democrat John Milkovich won his first term 52-48 against a GOP opponent in 2015, even though his Shreveport-area SD-38 is far from friendly turf for Democrats. This seat went from 59-40 Romney to a similar 57-40 Trump. The third and final Democrat in a Trump seat, Gary Smith, represents part of the River Parishes located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and won his second term that year with no opposition. Smith's SD-19 went from 55-43 Romney to 56-40 Trump.
None of the state's 39 Senate seats were particularly close in the 2016 presidential election. Trump's smallest margin of victory was in SD-08, another seat located on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, which went from 52-47 Romney to 52-45 Trump. This is Senate President John Alario's seat, and he won his third and final term without opposition in 2015. Alario has served in the legislature non-stop since winning election in 1971, when Edwin Edwards also won the first of what would ultimately be four non-consecutive terms as governor. Clinton, meanwhile, carried her closest seat by a healthy 57-40 margin.
We'll turn to the House, where 11 Democrats and two independents hold Trump seats. The reddest Democratic-held district is HD-54, which is the reddest Democratic-held seat we've found in any of the 36 states where we've released data for 2016 so far. Democrat Jerry Gisclair won his third and final term without opposition in a seat located on the Gulf Coast in Lafourche Parish, southwest of New Orleans. This seat went from 81-17 Romney to a monster 86-11 Trump. Indeed, it was Trump's second-best House seat in the entire state.
The second-reddest seat held by a Democrat anywhere (at least anywhere we've examined so far) is also in the Louisiana House. HD-33, which includes part of the Lake Charles area in southwest Louisiana, went from 78-20 Romney to 82-14 Trump, but Democrat Michael Danahay also won his final term without opposition. Louisiana Democrats also hold a third seat where Trump cleared 80 percent of the vote.
Special elections have largely gone well for Democrats since Trump became president, with Democrats losing control of just one legislative seat in the whole country. Not too surprisingly, that seat was in the Louisiana House, though it came in a special election Democrats didn't contest. In 2015, Democrat Jack Montoucet also won his third term without opposition in a district that would swing from 69-29 Romney to 72-26 Trump. However, Gov. Edwards appointed Montoucet to a state cabinet position, and no Democrat filed to run for his Lafayette-area HD-42.
Republicans hold one Clinton seat. HD-92, located in Kenner in Jefferson Parish, went from 50-48 Obama to 51-46 Clinton. Republican Tom Willmott won his third term in 2015 and resigned earlier this year. However, Democrats missed a key pickup opportunity when their candidate dropped out of the race after filing closed, though he remained on the ballot. As a result, Republican Joe Stagni decisively beat another Republican to claim the district.
At the other end of the spectrum is Neil Abramson, the one Democrat to cross party lines in the speakership election, who holds a very blue seat. HD-98, located in Uptown New Orleans, went from 68-29 Obama to 73-21 Clinton. The good news for Democrats is that Abramson will be termed-out in 2019, the next time the legislature is up for election. Abramson's seat is interesting in one other respect. In Louisiana, like in most of the Deep South, presidential voting is incredibly polarized along racial lines. In 2008, for instance, Obama carried African Americans 94-4 while losing white voters 84-14. (More recent exit polls are not available, but it's unlikely the numbers have changed much.)
As an unsurprising consequence, a plurality of registered voters in all but three legislative seats carried by Clinton is African-American, while all of Trump's districts are predominantly white. A rare exception is Abramson's seat, which includes Tulane and Loyola Universities as well as Audubon Park, which is 66 white and just 25 percent black by registration. The two Clinton seats that are not held by Democrats are the only other two districts that fit this pattern.
The GOP took majorities in the legislature just in time for redistricting in 2011. The House chose a Democrat to be its redistricting chair, but the maps very much favor Team Red. Trump carried the median point in the state Senate 68-30, about 18 points to the right of his already-formidable 58-38 statewide win. The House isn't much different, with Trump winning the median seat 66-29.
● Statehouse Action: This Week in Statehouse Action: I Hurrican't Even edition is chock full o' lousy news for Republicans, especially in Virginia, and features a fun "report card" on lawmakers' performance in legislatures this year (GOPers earn low marks but get points for creativity).
Can't even deal with clicking around to find your statehouse action each week? Sign up here to have This Week in Statehouse Action delivered hot and fresh to your inbox each Thursday!
● Site News: We'll be taking off Friday and Monday for Labor Day weekend, so that means no Live Digest either of those days (it'll return on Tuesday). For those who read us on the web or via email, there will be no Morning Digest on Monday or Tuesday, but we'll be back on the web and in your inbox on Wednesday. Enjoy the holiday!